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Ukraine’s defense minister says attacks on Crimea will continue, predicts possible NATO entry next year

<i>Ukrainian Armed Forces/Reuters</i><br/>Moscow targeted Ukrainain grain stocks along the Danube River overnight
Ukrainian Armed Forces/Reuters
Moscow targeted Ukrainain grain stocks along the Danube River overnight

By Sebastian Shukla, Alex Marquardt and Sana Noor Haq, CNN

(CNN) — Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov says that Ukraine will continue carrying out attacks on Russian-occupied Crimea and the Kerch Bridge that connects it to the Russian mainland, while also admitting that Ukraine’s plan for its sluggish counteroffensive is behind schedule.

As Russia has pummeled the southern port city of Odesa and the surrounding region over the past week, Ukraine has continued to carry out strikes inside Crimea. On Tuesday, Ukrainian drones hit an ammunition depot, just a week after seaborne drones struck the Kerch bridge.

“All these targets are official targets because it will reduce their capacity to fight against us (and) will help to save the lives of Ukrainians,” Reznikov said in an interview with CNN.

Asked if Ukraine’s goal is to permanently disable the bridge, Reznikov responded: “It’s normal tactics to ruin the logistic lines of your enemy to stop the options to get more ammunition, to get more fuel, to get more food, etcetera. That’s why we will use these tactics against them.”

Reznikov also accused Russia of operating as “a terrorist state.”

The fifth night of Russian strikes in Odesa badly damaged more than two dozen landmarks in the historic city center. Drones meanwhile pounded the region’s port infrastructure, targeting crucial grain stocks days.

The barrage comes after Moscow withdrew from a crucial grain deal that allowed for the safe export of Ukrainian wheat to international markets, exacerbating a global food crisis.

“This approach is absurd, but it’s real and that’s why it’s new evidence they are a terrorist state,” Reznikov told CNN’s Alex Marquardt on Saturday.

Senior Russian officials have said the spike in attacks is a response to a deadly explosion on the strategic Kerch bridge in Russian-occupied Crimea earlier this month.

“(Russia) tried to explain that it’s a response for some explosions in their territories, but they are fighting with the civilians,” Reznikov said. “That’s why I call them looters, rapists and murderers.”

Asked if Ukraine plans to ramp up attacks against Russian ships in the Black Sea in retaliation, he said, “We have capacity. We have weapons as we did with the cruiser Moskva and if they threaten us in the Black Sea, we’ll have to respond.”

The pride of Russia’s fleet, guided-missile cruiser Moskva, sank in the Black Sea in April, in an attack claimed by Ukrainian officials.

Counteroffensive is ‘going to plan’

Ukrainian air defense forces have struggled to counter Russia’s renewed attacks on Odesa in recent weeks, as Kyiv attempts to break Moscow’s tight defenses in the southeastern regions.

But Ukraine’s grueling counteroffensive has not resulted in any significant breakthroughs, despite Western allies donating billions of dollars worth of aid to bolster Kyiv’s military might and putting hundreds of soldiers through training.

Reznikov however insisted the operation is “going to plan,” saying: “Our generals, our commanders, they see the real situation on the battlefield. And again, I have to repeat the main value for us is life of for our soldiers.”

But asked if the plan is behind schedule, he acknowledged that it is.

If Ukrainian forces can successfully puncture Moscow’s sizeable defense lines along Ukraine Sea of Azov coastline that links Crimea to Donbas, Reznikov said it would be “a good result” for Kyiv.

“We have to do it thinking about the lives of our soldiers instead of Russians. They’re using the soldiers as cannon fodder.

“It’s a war and I think that we will show to the world again that we will win this war,” he said, referring to Ukraine taking back territory in the Kherson and Kharkiv regions.

Reznikov said that F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots will begin in August, adding that if Kyiv had the fighter jets now they would “certainly” have helped make more progress in the counteroffensive.

Reznikov also said he would share a report with the United States about the use of controversial US-supplied cluster munitions in Ukraine this week, “probably Monday or Tuesday.”

Highly destructive cluster munitions are outlawed by the UK, France, Germany and other key US allies, but the US and Ukraine are not signatories to the ban, nor is Russia.

‘We will win this war’

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shifted the security landscape in Europe, triggering Western allies to rethink their national security strategy and reigniting calls from Kyiv to join NATO.

The NATO summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius in July kicked off with heightened pleas from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to invite Ukraine into the bloc, despite resistance from allies amid Kyiv’s war with Russia.

In his interview with CNN, Reznikov acknowledged that Ukraine will likely only be able to join the alliance once the war is over, referencing Article 5, which requires members to come to the defense of any fellow member under attack.

“”After the victory, after then, it will be in the interest of NATO because we became a real eastern shield of NATO or eastern shield of Europe,” he said.

Ukraine has gained “real combat experience – how to deter Russians, to defeat them, to beat them with using NATO standard weaponry,” he added.

He predicted that Ukraine’s membership bid will be accepted in July 2024, when the NATO summit is scheduled to take place in Washington to mark the 75th anniversary of the alliance.

Asked if he thought the war would be over by next summer, he quickly answered, “Yes. We will win this war.”

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